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Dead State Postmortem by Brian Mitsoda

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Dead State Postmortem by Brian Mitsoda

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 11 March 2015, 20:40:11

Tags: Brian Mitsoda; Dead State; DoubleBear Productions

Brian Mitsoda has written a postmortem for Dead State, his zombie RPG that was released in December to not-much fanfare. As usual for these kinds of postmortems, it's divided into "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" sections. Since this is the Codex, I'll post an excerpt from the What Went Wrong part:

5. Too Many Characters

When we first developed Dead State, we wanted to make sure we had a large enough cast to make anyone expendable in the field. We shot high to make sure that players would have a large number of allies to present overlap in skillsets and to provide a lot of the dramatic conflicts that take place in the Shelter.

This meant that each ally not only had to have their normal Shelter dialogue, but their intro dialogue, dialogue based on their mood, conflict with other allies, “quest” dialogue, reactive event dialogue, random event dialogue, and so on. And even with all of this dialogue, the player may only see a fraction of it, depending on what they did with each ally.

There are over 45 allies in the game, with 6 to 30 branching dialogues for each ally. The amount of dialogue added up quickly and took a lot of time to write, script, and revise, especially when it was done by two designers that also had to oversee other systems.

The biggest problem stemmed from our allies being around the shelter for a period of up to 85+ days of game time. There was definitely a player (and reviewer) expectation that the allies should have had dialogue refreshed nearly every day, or that they should have as much to say as companions in other RPGs. However, most RPGs spread their companion dialogue and reactivity over 8-10 companions or non-playable characters, and update it in stages according to a set of linear plot points (another thing that Dead State, by and large, happened to avoid).

By the end, Dead State was already pushing the 15,000 line count with our massive cast, and that’s not even counting combat/reactive barks. While I think we did a great job making the allies diverse and as interesting as we could for their screen time, I can honestly say I would never recommend anyone attempt to have 45+ companions in your game unless it’s going to be a very short game.
And the conclusion:

For a new company, Dead State was quite a challenge and has definitely shaped the way we structure, advertise, and consider future projects. The budget was the bare minimum needed and the game has thus far sold on the lower end of our projections; it’s difficult to justify making a sequel or another RPG in the near future considering the amount of time and team size needed to produce one that satisfies the expectations of hardcore fans and press.

Communication and tech issues were definitely a hindrance to getting the game finished in a more timely fashion. Press, for the most part, seemed to want to compare the features of the game to much higher-budget RPGs and strategy games, and dinged us for not having stylized/better graphics, not adding a cover mechanic or interrupts (basically not recreating XCOM’s most recent iteration from 2012) to combat, and not having even more frequent dialogue interaction and animation in the Shelter portion of the game.

The general “zombie fatigue” of the press definitely did not help get us much in the way of release coverage, and we found it fairly difficult to get attention by traditional press outlets, despite the focus of the game being anything but another zombie-killing game.

Despite the limitation of our budget and staff size/experience, our team managed to put out a game that has garnered a strong fan base and much in the way of consistent word-of-mouth sales. It’s done well enough to allow us to make future titles, which is a pretty big win in the indie game business side of making games. We’ve already got some pretty exciting (and very fun) projects in the works, and at the very least, Dead State has given us a solid foundation to launch into the next phase of DoubleBear’s development as an indie company.​

Somewhat indirect way of announcing their next game won't be an RPG. Hmmm.

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